NOTICE | More than 600 million Africans have no electricity. Are renewable energies the answer?
Renewables can provide power during off-peak hours. But without the battery technology to store it efficiently, it is debatable whether Africa can reach its growth potential without the basic energy needed to industrialize its economies, says Greg Nott.
Africa urgently needs electricity to grow and develop as 600 million people on the continent currently do not have access to electricity. Electricity is an absolute necessity for Africa to improve its ability to achieve and advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs include the eradication of poverty and hunger, good health, world-class education, clean water and sanitation, job opportunities and economic growth – all of which require stable and affordable to energy.
Renewables can provide power during off-peak hours. However, without the battery technology to store it efficiently, it is debatable whether Africa can realize its growth potential without the power base needed to industrialize its economies. Baseload electricity has traditionally been provided by coal-fired power plants, natural gas-fired power plants, nuclear power plants, and some alternative fuels.
The crucial question facing African leaders, government officials and representatives at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, is whether poor African nations can achieve the SDGs without using fossil fuels.
As rich countries come up with solutions to reduce carbon emissions, these countries must remember that Africa needs urgent support and basic energy infrastructure to meet its growth and development needs. Emphasizing that Africa keeps its carbon emissions low (currently just over 3%) without offering concrete solutions for economic acceleration could be tantamount to asking the continent to slow down its development and to stay in unfavorable conditions.
Many African leaders argue that it is grossly hypocritical to insist that Africans freeze their carbon emissions, let alone reduce them to already low levels. In a recent editorial, the Vice President of Nigeria, Oluyemi Oluleke Osinbajo, wrote in the Financial Times and criticized those who have “a naïve belief in leapfrogging, the assumption that, like skipping landlines to mobile phones, Africa can “jump” to new energy technologies”. Osinbajo doesn’t think it’s that simplistic or easy to tackle.
The one thing Osinbajo is certain of is that rich countries cannot come up with solutions that keep other countries poor. The outcome of such unfair proposals, he says, would be both predictable and devastating, with millions crossing the Mediterranean towards Europe in search of a carbon-intensive way of life.
Many of the world’s richest and most developed countries are locked into carbon-rich energy supply routes that make shifting to greener technologies perfect ideology but much more difficult to implement. However, the lack of energy infrastructure in Africa means that it may prioritize the use of certain clean energy technologies such as electric vehicles, hydrogen generation and carbon capture, creating a jump-start effect. -sheep.
As the developed world looks back on the energy strategies that underpinned its previous decades of industrialization – while counting the environmental and societal cost of the economic impact – we could argue that Africa benefits from the setback. This retrospective leaves Africa as a blank energy canvas ripe for a case study of a hybrid energy solution.
The fact that Africa has vast untapped potential in clean and renewable energy technologies is a common cause. Twenty-two nations on the continent use renewable energy as their main source of electricity, according to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo sit on huge hydropower potential. At the same time, Namibia, with its long coastline and deserts, is well placed to harness wind, solar and possibly hydrogen energy.
Renewable energy solutions are cost effective and faster to build than coal or gas plants and will unlock climate finance. However, every African nation will need to create a strategy that ensures it has the energy intensity needed to run factories, create jobs, run schools and build the infrastructure for a young and rapidly growing urban population.
Our unique position is the ideal breeding ground for energy innovation. We must be creative in developing proposals and plans and in deploying funds to lead the way in this new era.
This week, as I attend COP27, I look beyond theoretical and ideological think tanks to find common threads that identify African solutions to Africa’s energy problems. I seek answers on where Africa can grow its economies using advanced sustainable technologies while accessing concessional finance from development partners. Partners who recognize our unique position and see the potential to propel our future.
Greg Nott is the Africa practice lead at Norton Rose Fulbright. He specializes in energy projects and transactions. New24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse opinions. The opinions of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the opinions of News24.